Entering last night’s game the Denver Nuggets ranked a disappointing 14th in offensive rating on the season. They finished last season fifth in offense, at 110 points per 100 possessions; from December 15 onward—the day they moved Nikola Jokic into the starting lineup as a center—that number was 113.7, the highest offensive rating in the NBA. That they’d been exactly nine points worse per 100 possessions this season was a cause for some concern, even while their defense has improved significantly.
But the season is young, and sooner or later the Nuggets were going to explode on some poor unsuspecting team. Last night they released all that backed up offensive firepower, like an impacted colon flushed by the world’s strongest laxative, all over the poor Pelicans, to the tune of 146 points, the most scored by a team in regulation this season. 146 points is a lot of fuckin’ points: one team (the Warriors) scored at least that many points in regulation in the 2016-17 NBA season, and just once, and that was the first time any team had scored that many points in a regulation game since 2009, per Basketball Reference.
The box numbers are pretty extraordinary: the Nuggets recorded 37 assists on 56 (!) made baskets, and shot 63 percent from the floor, including 51 percent on 35 three-point attempts. The poor Pelicans had a fine offensive night—32 assists against just 13 turnovers, and 53 percent shooting, good for a 113.5 offensive rating—and still managed to lose by 32 points. Denver’s four main guards—Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Emmanuel Mudiay, and Will Barton—combined to shoot 31 of 45 from the floor, and 10 of 20 from three. Harris finished a hilarious plus-41 on the night.
Murray was really electric in this one, erupting for 31 points on just 18 shots, to go with four assists against zero turnovers. He’s had a rough, uneven start to the season—even after last night’s heroics, he’s still shooting just 30 percent from beyond the arc, an area expected to be one of his main strengths—but he was aggressive as hell out of the gate, using any space at all as an invitation to shoot:
Unbelievably, this was an eight-point game at halftime, and the lead was as slim as six points in the third quarter, but the Nuggets scored 82 points in the second half to turn the game, eventually, into a laugher. This is the team NBA fans were expecting entering this season: Nikola Jokic is one of the most exciting offensive centers to come along in years, and the Nuggets have done brilliantly to surround him with interchangeable guards and wings who can shoot and cut and pass and do a little ball-handling of their own. They entered last night just 14th in offensive rating, but after their explosion, they enter Saturday ranked sixth. That’s more like it, Nuggets!